Friday, January 11, 2013

Stuck in the middle




Line edits to the left of me
Copy edits to the right, here I am
Stuck in the middle of you


This morning I waved at my monitor while the finished manuscript for my second novel, to be published in 2014, scooted out the door through my inbox and went off into the world without me for the first time ever. Though I've done this once already, I still felt a clutch of nervousness, the way I did six months ago when Burning Sky left for finishing school (otherwise known as editing).

I'm still in that editing process with Burning Sky, resting (not stuck!) and focusing on the new story that's asking to be written, here in the lull between line edits and copy edits. But I wanted to write a bit about how it's been so far, going through the publication experience for the first time, and something important I learned.

The five weeks I spent on content edits for Burning Sky were the hardest I've ever worked at writing. I developed aches I thought were still ten or fifteen years off from the long hours sitting in this chair (happy to say for the most part, they've eased up now).

Content edits: While many small and medium-sized changes were made throughout the manuscript, one major change to the storyline involved some hard rethinking on my part, re-plotting, and changes in some secondary characters. I went into those changes only half-convinced they would significantly improve the story, but fully convinced that I should trust my editor's years of experience and do the work in order to find out. It didn't take long (remember that photo of a table full of index cards with yellow post-it notes?) before I realized that yes, making that big change would streamline the story's focus and help the pacing, which sagged in a few spots in the story's middle. I got behind that change wholeheartedly and thus began those five intense weeks of rewrites. 

Then came line edits. These are edits on a smaller scale, but just as important as the big issues we tackled in the content edits. Line edits zero in character motivation, consistency, clunky sentences, anachronisms, poor word choices, wordy passages, missing elements, and when some element of the story just isn't coming across clearly, or seems contradictory. Which leads me to....

My big lesson through the process so far: It was enlightening to learn that in several cases what I thought was on the page had never quite made it out of my head. Perhaps it was there once, but by this stage I'd inadvertently deleted a key sentence or two in an self-editing pass, and never realized it because, well, the entire story (and back story, characters, and everything behind what they say and do) IS still in my head, and my eye tends to fill in those gaps on the page.

I think as writers we can learn to look with objectivity at what is on the page, even after dozens of passes over a manuscript (for some good instruction on this topic, check out Lisa Cron's book Wired For Story), but nothing beats the fresh and objective eye of a talented and dedicated editor to let a writer know when she's dropped the ball as far as presenting clear, logical character motivation throughout a novel's entirety.

Though trusted critiquers, or beta readers, can come close!

photo credit: katerha, Flickr commons

12 comments:

  1. Oh, my! Lori, this is enlightening and frightening at the same time. If I ever make it this far, I'll ask you to hold my hand. ; )

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    1. Of course I will. And no need to be frightened, as I'm sure you are used to hard work (anyone who sticks with writing any length of time has to be). Editors make great suggestions for those kinds of changes, and explain in detail why they make them. Mind did anyway, and I'm glad I trusted her. :)

      But I seriously recommend Cron's book. It's the best craft book I've read in a long time. I was reading it WHILE I was doing those weeks of content edits, and it couldn't have come at a better time (thank you, Shannon & team!).

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    2. I bought it after you mentioned it here. I haven't gotten to it yet. There's only so much time in a day after all.

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    3. Too true! Glad you picked up a copy though.

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  2. Lori,

    First off, congratulations on your send-off! I just waved, too, and sent a prayer your way.

    Second, what you said here: "It was enlightening to learn that in several cases what I thought was on the page had never quite made it out of my head. Perhaps it was there once, but by this stage I'd inadvertently deleted a key sentence or two in an self-editing pass, and never realized it because, well, the entire story (and back story, characters, and everything behind what they say and do) IS still in my head, and my eye tends to fill in those gaps on the page."

    This just happens. It just happens! I hate it, but it happens. I used to be a closet writer - no one could see my work until it was perfect. So no one ever saw my work..... When I finally started having others read my stuff (that was a huge hurdle for me), that's when my breakthrough came in my writing. I can't tell you how big a difference this has made! Beta readers, critiquers, editors, mothers, they're all soooooo important!

    Many blessings this year, Lori!
    Becky

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    1. Thank you Becky! It's so true that what we write will never be perfect, and even if it's perfect for one reader, it won't be for another. We do our best in the time we have (and at this stage it's a real team effort) then let it go.

      I'm glad to hear you discovered this, too. Good for you, finding that courage to let your writing out of the closet. And it does take courage. Every time. That part doesn't seem to change. :)

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  3. Hi Lori,

    Thanks for the update on the select profile options below. Now the Name/URL option IS there, as well as an "anonymous" option. Not sure why it wasn't separated for you.

    IF YOU DO get spammers, take it off! I can always comment to you via email. :-)

    But YAY! For now, I can comment here!

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    1. I can turn it back on if need be, and still keep the options open. But glad you are getting through now. It makes me wonder if there are others who couldn't post, so I'm glad you told me about it. Thank you!

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  4. Congrats, Lori! I hope you can take a minute to celebrate sending book 2 off [g]

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    1. I hadn't, but per your excellent suggestion, I shall!

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  5. I love your site--the brown is great and easy to read--quite classy. At first a little put off, 'cause going to read YOU, then just get a bit re another author=but it was worthwhile and then up you pop--...stuck in the middle! A nice read--I still love being in your world, even if it seems like I'm not. I'm here praying--and also did a delayed "wave" 'n a prayer send off... cute! Hang in there--I love seeing changes in you 'n your life. They're comin'...! Blessings 'n love.

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    1. You still are, Patti (part of my world) even if we can't see each other every week. I hope you'll drop in on us some Monday though, whenever you are in town. Blessings to you too and I hope you are enjoying all YOUR changes. New town, new home, new friends. Lucky ladies. :)

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